Notes & Quotes from “The Exactness Of The World: A Conversation With Hiroshi Sugimoto(杉本博司)”

The Exactness Of The World: A Conversation With Hiroshi Sugimoto

By Tracey Bashkoff  (The interview took place in Hiroshi Sugimoto’s studio in New York, November- December 1999.)

HS: “Holbein was established as portrait artist to the court of Henry VIII. He had the same role as a photographer would today.”(p.27) (The relationship between Sugimoto & Holbein)


HS: “My first series of wax-museum photographs was a natural extension of my Dioramas series. I was interested in displays at natural -history museums and how they could be photographed without revealing that the subject was an exhibit. I then extended the concept to the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s. … The history of her life and the development of the waxworks are fascinating.”(p.28) (The starting point of the Portraits series and reason.)


HS: “Madame Tussaud played an important role as a recorder of history. In a way, the portrait in wax served as photography does now. More than fifty years before the invention of photography, a wax portrait had the same function: to preserve what a person looked like and to record history–in this case, the likenesses of two great thinkers.”(p.28) (The relationship between wax portraits and photo portraits.)


TB: “Have you ever made photographic portraits?”

HS: “Of live people? No–I’m not interested in living people at all. [Laughs]”(p.28)(Ha ha ha)



HS: “When they were alive, their likeness were captured in wax, either directly or through an intermediate means, such as painting, and now I have photographed the wax figures. In the case of the historical, prephotographic-era figures, it’s as if I’m a sixteenth-century photographer ready to participate in their memorialization.”(p.28-29) (One of the reasons why Sugimoto wanted to photo historical people. / The relationship between Sugimoto and Henry VIII.)


HS: “I was trying to make the images life-size, like the wax figures, but these seem larger than life.” (Scale of the images.)


TB: “How does your format relate to traditional portrait painting?”

HS: “All the subjects are either three-quarter views or in profile. Very few of the figures are looking at you directly. … From the three-quarter view, the viewer feels as if he or she is invisible and able to investigate this powerful person without confrontation.”(p.33) (Comparison: Sugimoto’s portrait & portrait painting, the views and eye contact.)


HS: “I applied the same painterly technique of using light to heighten the detail of costumes of each figure.”(p.33-34) (Comparison: Sugimoto’s portrait & portrait painting: position, light & shadow, how to paint.)


HS: “I had each figure placed in front of my own black backdrop, like a studio setting. This abstract black backdrop isolates the figure from its surroundings. … When you look at these photographs, you lose all sense of place. … The plain black backdrop removes the sense of a specific historical time, as in a nightmare or a dream, when a person appears out of the darkness and starts talking to you.”(p.38-39) (Technique of photograph, background & the function.)

[Bibliography info]

Bashkoff, T. (2000). The Exactness Of The World: A Conversation With Hiroshi Sugimoto. In: T. Bashkoff and N. Spector, ed., Sugimoto: Portraits, 1st ed. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, pp.26-41.

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